Editor’s note: Updated May 26 with comments from the Latvian embassy.
Kevin Casebier should be an object lesson in what not to do to become an honorary consul, according to some.
Instead, his ingenuity paid off, and the longtime banker, staffing executive and real estate developer has the distinction of becoming the most recently appointed diplomat in Georgia.
Mr. Casebier now represents Latvia, the middle geographically of the Baltic nations, which has 2 million people and a capital city, Riga, that was named the 2014 European capital of culture.
The Atlanta businessman has long maintained a variety of European family and business connections, including a bearded brother, Kraig, known as the “American Barber in Prague,” who has become a minor celebrity in the Czech capital.
But it was the realization he could help both a small European country and Atlanta, his adoptive hometown of 20-plus years, that encouraged him finally to pursue diplomacy.
“I get that question a lot: Why do you want to do this?” he told Global Atlanta in an interview. “At some point in your career, it’s not all about money all the time. I wanted to give back.”
Mr. Casebier moved to Atlanta from Louisville, Ky., as a young man with his possessions in the trunk of his car. He went on to build a successful career in Atlanta, which always impressed him as a place that rewards an entrepreneurial spirit and hard work.
“Atlanta always had a can-do attitude that I love about it,” he said. “If it can happen, it can happen here.”
The seed of working in diplomacy had germinated for many years. Mr. Casebier remembers attending an annual celebration of then-Dutch Queen Beatrix‘s birthday hosted by Erik Vonk, the former Randstad North America executive and Dutch honorary consul. Mr. Vonk, incidentally now the proprietor of Georgia-distilled Richland Rum encouraged Mr. Casebier’s Austrian-born daughter to obtain her EU passport. And Mr. Casebier’s research into his own roots in Eastern and Northern Europe tied him more closely to a continent he had visited often.
When he got serious, he talked with George Novak, Georgia’s honorary consul for the Czech Republic, whom Mr. Casebier had planned to introduce to his brother, the barber in Prague.
Mr. Novak says he told Mr. Casebier that the job was rewarding but could also be demanding on one’s time, with a lot of expenses for which he may never be reimbursed.
“You have to come when they call,” Mr. Novak said he told Mr. Casebier.
As for Latvia, Mr. Casebier saw that it was the last of three Baltic nations — Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania — to lack representation in Atlanta through an honorary consulate. So he contacted the embassy — something other honorary consuls have told Global Atlanta is a sure way not to get appointed.
But perhaps in a sign of the times, the embassy responded positively and flew Mr. Casebier over to learn about the history, culture and economy. He crisscrossed the bucolic countryside to visit factories and farms, then spent five days in meetings with the foreign ministry.
“To see it first hand was important for me, to be able to put it in the context of Europe as a whole,” he said. In January, he received official confirmation of his appointment, making Atlanta one of the few U.S. cities with diplomatic representation from all three Baltic countries.
Mr. Casebier makes 16 honorary consuls for Latvia throughout the United States, where the country is seeking to broaden its economic and cultural influence, said Sabīna Švāne-Stankeviča, cultural attache at the embassy and assistant to the ambassador.
“Latvia relies on the help of honorary consuls in order to strengthen and enhance its presence outside Washington D.C.,” Ms. Švāne-Stankeviča said in an email. “Our ultimate goal is to extend our diplomatic outreach across all states in U.S. Honorary consuls are proven to be a reliable asset in commissioning various functions of diplomatic and economic outreach.”
She added that Georgia was a key state thanks to the existing presence of Latvia-based Valmiera Glass — which makes fiberglass material used in aviation and fire protection. The company is one of the largest employers in Dublin, Ga. after having announced a $90 million, six-year expansion of its plant that will create 425 jobs.
“We recognize cultural uniqueness and distinctiveness of south Atlantic states in America as well as their economic relevance,” Ms. Švāne-Stankeviča said, noting Georgia’s reputation as being friendly to manufacturers. “Our hope is that honorary consul in Georgia will facilitate further expansion of economic, business and cultural ties between Latvian and the State of Georgia, thus complementing greater Latvia-US strategic partnership.”
Latvia, a member of NATO, the European Union and the euro zone, borders Russia and has been an important party to security conversations during uncertain times for the trans-Atlantic alliance under new U.S. President Donald Trump.
Mr. Casebier saw that the country, whose history includes long periods of subjugation by foreign powers including the Soviet Union until 1991, is interested in carving out its own identity and growing its economy through exports and overseas engagement (a key reason for taking on the risk of joining the euro zone in 2014).
During his trip to Latvia, Mr. Casebier met with the Valmiera Glass leadership. He also met with Toms Ērenpreiss of the Ērenpreiss Bicycle Co., a more than 100-year-old company that was once the largest bike maker in the Baltics. It was nationalized by Soviets in the 1940s under the Red Star Bicycle moniker, then revived in 2005 by Mr. Ērenpreiss, the grand-nephew of the founder.
“Mr. Erenpriess is seeking to expand the company’s market in North America,” Mr. Casebier said.
Mr. Casebier foresees a variety of potential collaborations with Georgia: Forestry is a big Latvian export sector, and the highly educated population could benefit from technical collaborations with Georgia Tech or Southern Polytechnic, now a unit of Kennesaw State University.
Mr. Casebier plans to visit the Valmiera plant June 6. Ambassador Andris Teikmanis is tentatively scheduled to visit Atlanta in mid-June to officially open the honorary consulate and meet Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.